The Last Project

The person on the train kept saying, “I believe,” over and over and over. The train, a Railjet Express 165, left Vienna for Innsbruck punctually at 9:30 on this first Sunday of April and there was only one other person in the third compartment behind the dining car, an elderly lady in a green tweed suit, her purse and a manila envelope the only pieces of luggage either one of them had. The two didn’t know each other and never spoke. As the train eased into Linz central station, the old lady stood up, picked up her purse, looked at her travel companion, and said “Good luck”. Then she was gone and all that was left in the compartment was silence, a pounding heart, an unwavering belief against all odds, and a manila envelope.

* * *

Jašar reached for the knob on his car stereo and soon the melancholic gypsy sounds filled the automobile. Of course, his name wasn’t Jašar anymore, for Jašar was killed by a landmine just outside of Sarajevo 14 years ago. There was nothing in his new life tying him to the person he was before, not a name, not his documents, not a single possession, not anybody he knew back then, save for one man. He was various people, right now a German entrepreneur on a business trip to Austria, yet in none of his many lives was there room for nostalgia. It was in the rare moments like this one, when nearing the end of one of his projects, that he would allow himself a little treat and would dive into the sounds of his childhood.

The man Jašar was waiting for was still in the house and if everything was as expected, it would be another few hours before he came out, making it likely that the deal would be closed tonight. Jašar spent months preparing for this meeting, both in Vienna and here, in the outskirts of Klagenfurt. He met the politician just once, at the party thrown by the British Embassy in Vienna to celebrate the Queen’s birthday, but he has never been far away from him since. He knew where he lived, his favorite restaurants and meals, which car he drove, and when he drove it by himself, what time he woke up, where his lover lived, what roads he took for every of his trips. He was visiting his lover right now, a young man who sang in a church choir, volunteered in the local fire brigade and lived in a small house with thickly nested red geraniums hanging over the dark oak balcony slabs, the one he inherited from his grandmother. In stark contrast to the modest abode stood the black government issued Volkswagen Phaeton parked in front of it, with its 12-cylinder and 6-liter motor announcing not only its own power wherever it went, but also of the man in it, the man who many believed would be the next Austrian Chancellor.

 

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Not tonight, Son

As he strode to the plate, his bat leisurely resting on his shoulder, Karl knew this was it. This was the moment to settle it, once and for all. While there would perhaps be another chance, this was the first time, that one encounter that will remain etched in the collective memory the longest. And, frankly, he knew this was also his best shot, as time was not necessarily on his side.

He felt good. He got a clean single in the second, put up a good at bat in the fourth before lining out sharply to right field and then walked in the seventh. He was not the same menacing presence in the box he was ten, or even five years ago, but he was still someone you’d rather not face in the bottom of the ninth, with the tying run on first base.

They had a new kid on the mound, a young and cocky fireballer, like so many others sprouting around the league these days. He was just like so many Karl has faced over the years, and yet he was like no one before. For this tall and broad-shouldered lefty was his son.

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